India and Pakistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to share and learn from experiences of both nations on devolution of power to grass-root levels hoping that these low-hanging fruits will pave way for lasting peace. The MoU signed by the Ministry of Panchayat Raj (MPR) and National Reconstruction Bureau of Pakistan (NRBP) is not part of the confidence building process but it is hoped that the movement of people who are part of the establishment at lower levels will increase awareness and understanding between the populations.
The MoU seeks to create a Joint Working Group (JWG) to monitor and study the efficacy of local self-governments in implementing civic benefit programs. According to MPR, Pakistan is far ahead of India in the mechanisms used to devolve power as the rural and the urban local governments are integrated with bureaucracy. Further, the district administration and police there are answerable to the elected chief executive of the district and not to a centralized power structure. The MPR says that the British District
Magistrate legacy was abolished in Pakistan a long time ago and the Ministry thinks that this form may be useful to India.
In terms of numbers, India has had great success with its Panchayati Raj system covering 240,000 panchayats and nagarpalikas governed by 3.2 million elected representatives, which include 120,000 women. India's most backward state Bihar had a 50% reservation for women in its Panchayat system. While these numbers are impressive and the sheer magnitude of conducting elections at the local levels is commendable and must be appreciative for the process, it is debatable if the Panchayat System itself is actually functional or efficient. Panchayat leaders are often ill-trained, ill-equipped, ill-funded, and mired into one political party or the other. Hence, the political mess at the state or federal level is invariably visible at the local level. Instead of focusing on implementation of social welfare schemes and monitoring development, the Panchayat System is used as means to develop a vote-bank by politicians.
Moreover, given the semblance of law and order in India with the current system and complete security vacuum in Pakistan at the local level, it is questionable whether India needs to change the functioning order. India may be a functioning anarchy but is an effective one while Pakistan may have grand plans but is essentially a dysfunctional system. Furthermore, while Pakistan is essentially homogeneous autocratic society with dominant communities of one form of Islam or the other, India is a heterogeneous secular and democratic society steeped in democratic tradition and independent thought. Therefore, India cannot adopt a work-in-progress system instituted in Pakistan by a President of questionable credentials without a study of its efficiency.
However, the JWG is a good idea that would greatly help people-to-people interaction and cooperation that will help both communities learn from each other. The politicians have to ensure that it does not degenerate into a vacation entitlement scheme as rewards for convenient local politicians. Many such programs include the UN Development Program are used as largesse handed to convenient but corrupt bureaucrats.